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One of the great things about this country is that when people come together they are very strong, and we need to come together to understand our natural resources, and how important natural resources are to future generations – Fernando Clemente, New Mexico Wildlife Federation Board Member and Wildlife Biologist

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Fernando Clemente, New Mexico Wildlife Services and NM Wildlife Federation board member with a Montezuma Quail. Photo by Lew Carpenter

I stepped in close to the desert scrub where I thought the fleeing Montezuma Quail had landed. These quail hold tight and I was right on top of one when it exploded up in front of me blasting out to my left. I pulled in line and my view suddenly clouded with a dense tree foiling my shot. I looked further left and saw Clemente smoothly and effortlessly raise his shotgun and drop the dynamic bird.

 

We were a mere 20 minutes into our Montezuma Quail (also known as Mearns Quail) hunt when the first covey had been busted. Field & Stream reporter Hal Herring had dropped a bird from that first flush and, apparently, I had become the bird dog for Clemente’s kill – both flushing and retrieving for him.

 

Our group had joined just a few miles from the US-Mexico border in the Coronado National Forest of New Mexico’s bootheel, just south of Animas. We were six – plus three dogs – out to hunt Montezuma Quail and talk wildlife impacts of a proposed border wall. Sixty percent of the Chihuahua desert grasslands are gone and further fragmentation of this essential habitat and its wildlife corridors would be devastating if a border wall is built.

 

“Some animals, because of their size, avoid predators, humans, autos and structures,” Clemente said. “So when they see a structure in the distance like the proposed wall, they will not even go near. So when you talk about home range and habitat for a species, it will be totally disrupted – from California to Texas.”

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Impressive tall-grass habitat of the Coronado National Forest in New Mexico. Photo By Lew Carpenter

New Mexico Wildlife Federation (NMWF) staff member Gabe Vasquez, board member Fernando Clemente and past NMWF board chair Ray Trejo – plus Field & Stream’s Hal Herring and Tom Fowlks (photographer) – were all on site to camp, hunt and expose a magnificent ecosystem filled with tall grasslands, wooded hills, Coues deer, bear, desert bighorn sheep and…oh yes, quail.

Vasquez organized the trip. He also authored the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Border Wall policy resolution, which was ratified by 51 NWF state affiliates during the 2017 NWF annual meeting in Stevenson, Washington. He is also a Las Cruces City Councilman and heads the Nuestra Tierra conservation program for NMWF.

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From top left: Fernando Clemente, Lew Carpenter, Gabe Vasquez. Bottom from left: Ray Trejo, Hal Herring. Photo by Tom Fowlks

“Under recent Congressional bills there have been environmental waivers granted for construction of any type of structure for border security,” Vasquez said. “New Mexico Legislators this year pushed back strongly with legislation that would trigger a state-version of NEPA or EIS anytime the federal government wants to come in and do a land swap with the state of New Mexico to facilitate the construction of any property, where there are no environmental laws required (like Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act). It received strong support and passed out of a House committee.”

“So clearly here in New Mexico we place a high value on our land – and when people talk about state’s rights – well here’s a federal decision that comes with the power to decimate our state’s recreation economy, our wildlife and our culture, and we don’t want it,” Vasquez continued. “People talk all the time about state’s rights and some of these folks are the same ones who want the wall, but you can’t have it both ways. This is terrible for sportsmen and women in New Mexico and terrible for anyone else who uses these public lands.”

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Gabe Vasquez, Las Cruces City Councilman, NM Wildlife staffer and leader of Nuestra Tierra. Photo by Lew Carpenter

NMWF’s Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project, a program that helps underserved and Hispanic communities connect with the outdoors, has been advocating against the border wall since its inception, and the following is from its factsheet:

 

President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a massive border wall across the U.S.-Mexico border is misguided, xenophobic, technically infeasible, and will deteriorate the country’s relationship with Mexico.

 

A massive border wall, on the scale that Trump has proposed, will also have a tremendously negative impact on wildlife and the natural environment.

 

Disrupting the flow of water

  • In many places across the border, existing fences already act as dams during periods of heavy rainfall, which cause severe soil erosion, degraded habitat for wildlife, and flooding in rural and urban population centers. A concrete wall would likely amplify these existing problems.
  • According to the National Park Service, the pooling of water against existing border fences in Arizona has already caused severe soil erosion and damage to riparian vegetation.
  • When it rains in Palomas, Mexico, which neighbors Columbus, N.M., the town’s streets, many of them dirt roads, flood badly. Engineers have concluded that the existing border fencing and infrastructure is largely to blame. Additional and larger border infrastructure could severely flood our southern neighbors by altering the course of naturally flowing arroyos, impacting both their health, infrastructure, and economy.

 

Severe disruption to wildlife habitat

  • Reinforced fencing – in particular solid walls – along the Southwest border will continue to disrupt the migratory ranges of wildlife in the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts and their endangered species.
  • Current border fences have already hindered efforts to save the native jaguar, which was listed as an endangered species since 1977 and is slowly recovering from near extinction. Restricting the movement of these creatures will almost certainly eliminate their ability to reach their traditional breeding areas.
  • The current wall has seriously hampered the distribution of the ferruginous pygmy-owl and bighorn sheep and could isolate other endangered populations of large mammals, particularly in Arizona’s Sky Island region, including black bears.

 

Building a massive border wall to divide these two great nations will destroy the cultural heritage that the land represents to its modern day inhabitants and will severely impact wildlife habitat and endanger binational communities. Nuestra Tierra strongly believes that to preserve our frontera culture, and to move forward as a nation, the border wall must not be built.

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From left: Gabe Vasquez, Hal Herring and Fernando Clemente. Photo by Lew Carpenter

“We need to act, Clemente said. “We need to come together. One of the great things about this country is when people come together they are very strong. And we need to come together to understand our natural resources, and how important natural resources are to future generations. The United States has always been the leader in wildlife management and the conservation of natural resources, and I don’t understand why we would head down this route (of a border wall).”

 

Trejo fortified that notion, “We work very hard to articulate just that, on the landscape and on the border. It is our responsibility to bring people who are making decisions down (to the border), and to look at the landscape – otherwise they don’t understand. We are connected with Mexico and we have always been connected with Mexico. And that wall is going to create a barrier that impacts the ecosystem that spans the border, and what happens to the people, the wildlife, the habitat and the work between the countries?”

 

As we drove into the boot heel of New Mexico — the northern part of the Chihuahua Desert – the exotic landscape opened up with magnificent grasslands, mountain ranges and rich colors of gold, brown and green.

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Dog on point with Vasquez and Clemente. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Our campsite was at 5500 feet altitude and the temps ranged from 14 to 75 degrees.

 

Trejo, a high school administrator in these parts, brought his two German short haired pointers and Clemente, who owns NM Specialized Wildlife Services, brought his pointer as well. Both men are experts in wildlife conservation and Clemente manages wildlife populations on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

“We are supposed to be a country that creates relations, and I hope that nothing will happen, but if the wall gets created, what will happen to those relations?” Clemente rhetorically asked. “And what do I mean by that? I’m going to talk about waterfowl, migratory birds, and many people say that ‘They can fly over the wall,’ but that’s not the point. The point is there are tri-lateral meetings every year between the US, Canada and Mexico.

 

“They meet to create a management plan for the migratory birds, and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of that within the Central Flyway. And they get to get together and talk about everything from habitat restoration and resting places (wildlife refuges) all the way to bag limits and how many each country harvests,” Clemente continued. “Why is that? Because they fly from Canada to Mexico and then back each year. It’s not a species that somebody owns – everybody owns them, and their habitat, and home range is from Canada to Mexico, so that’s the way it needs to be managed. So let’s say there is a break in our relationships, and now they don’t care because we don’t care about them – so we will change things to keep more birds for us. The problem is that if we start changing how we manage those migratory birds in order to keep numbers for each country, what will happen in 20 years?”

 

The same could be said about relations on Sonoran pronghorn, Coues deer, desert bighorn sheep – just a few in the game species category.

 

“We have a great population of Goulds turkeys because of releases from Mexico, and Mexico is doing great with Gould’s turkeys – almost half the country has Gould’s turkeys,” Clemente said. “So all those relationships have been created to build population sustainability with wildlife populations. If we damage that then it will be 10 times harder to be able to sustain a wildlife population. Now, with that being said, what kind of message are we sending to the wildlife biologists and ecologists about all that work from the past? When we build that wall we are saying we don’t care about the work.”

 

Heading out into the National Forest I was struck by the glowing, golden high grasses – excellent quail habitat. The quality of the landscape was like nothing I had seen further north. Un-grazed public land as far as the eye could see – challenging us as we searched for quail.

 

Tracking along a small wash, which was wooded along the southern face, we came upon that first covey and flush. Holding a Montezuma in my hand for the first time, I could easily see what the fuss was about with these birds. To detail all its beauty in words would be nearly impossible considering the diversity of colors and patterns throughout its plumage.

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Montezuma Quail. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Exploring a small slice of this incredible grassland ecosystem was a gift. Thick golden fields of grass; rocky, woodland washes and hills; and open space without structure extending well beyond sight (with occasional groups of Coues deer busting forth).

 

“Culturally we refer to this little piece on the landscape as the border, but it’s a landscape just like any other,” Vasquez said. “It is diverse, it is beautiful and to us it is our home. It is becoming more dangerous to us as we see what is happening in Congress.”

 

I admit, it’s hard to weave a hunting story with an issue as significant, deep and connected to so many people, cultures and conservation values. The hunt left a mark on me. The conversation about the wildlife impacts of a border wall left an impact on me. My life is forever changed by this type of experience, when being present in a special place merges with responsible, pragmatic dialogue about common values. And when we connect with each other physically in a place that is meaningful, one can’t help but be transformed forever.

 

And, while we sought both Montezuma and Blue (Scaled) quail, we encountered Gamble’s quail, too – all remarkable game birds. Afternoons in this area beg a hat trick. Though I didn’t shoot as well as I would like, the hunt will be one of my greatest sporting memories. The combination of epic habitat, spectacular wildlife and the best of companions (dogs included) made the trip truly special.

 

I am invested in my role with conservation, and even more invested in my relationships, but to be in a place that not only connects people and culture from two nations, and touches upon the values of wild places and wildlife, I can’t help but be transformed even further in my resolve to protect the things I love – people, wildlife, heritage and the vast beauty of the public estate.

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Artemis and NWF release report highlighting link between mule deer and sage-grouse

Just as mule-deer hunters are getting ready to head into the field for hunting season, members of the sportswomen’s group Artemis are releasing a report to raise awareness that anyone who cares about deer should care about greater sage-grouse and the remarkable effort across the West to save the iconic bird.

Artemis and the National Wildlife Federation, today released the report “Living on Common Ground – Sportswomen speak out to save the mule deer, sage-grouse and sagebrush country.”

Mule deer and sage-grouse have been in decline across much of the West. Sage-grouse used to number in the millions, but now less than a half million remain. A recent study in Pinedale, Wyo., found that mule deer herds have declined by 40 percent in the heavily developed gas fields of the region. The report explores what for sportswomen is impossible to ignore – sagebrush lands throughout the West provide vital habitat for both species and those lands are steadily disappearing.

“Mule deer and sage-grouse are the canaries in the coal mine for sage steppe health,” says Jessi Johnson, Artemis coordinator and Wyoming Wildlife Federation public lands coordinator. “If we fail to listen to the warnings they are giving us with their dwindling numbers, we will lose not only two iconic Western species but a host of dependent flora and fauna and the very essence of what makes living in the West so special.”

Hearing that warning, a diverse group of stakeholders from across the West, including the sporting community, came together to build conservation plans aimed at saving sage-grouse. Completed in 2015, these sage-grouse conservation plans allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude that the bird didn’t need to be added to the endangered species list. The conservation plans instead represent a balanced approach to management of the bird’s habitat on our nation’s public lands that would also accommodate other careful uses.

However, changes being considered by the Trump administration could now derail implementation of the plans, threatening the fate of sage-grouse and the more than 350 species, including mule deer, which depend on the West’s sagebrush lands. Interior Secretary Zinke seeks to weaken safeguards meant to accommodate responsible development on sagebrush lands while preserving their value as habitat. Instead, the Secretary continues to drift away from conserving healthy habitats, continuing to explore instead unsound schemes relying on population numbers and captive breeding.

“Where will those captive-bred birds find homes,” asks Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands policy director. “The sage-grouse conservation plans are the result of long, hard work of stakeholders across the West who spent years finding common ground and a pathway to the future for both people and wildlife. It would be an ominous blow to sage-grouse and mule deer and all of us who live in the West if we can no longer safeguard the lands where they find food and cover.”

Artemis understands that hunters will be key to ensuring that both the species thrive into the future and is urging support for the sage-grouse conservation plans.

“As an avid hunter of mule deer on public land, I feel it’s of the utmost importance that their breeding and feeding grounds are maintained and protected,” says Artemis co-founder Cindi Baudhuin. “I hope that ‘Living on Common Ground’ will help drive home the important link between mule deer and sage-grouse for hunters.”

Artemis and NWF continue to move forward by reaching out to hunters, local communities, and other wildlife advocates to ensure everyone understands that the future of mule deer and sage- grouse are inextricably linked.

“As hunters, anglers and wildlife conservationists, now is the opportunity to work to ensure these populations exist for future generations,” says Sara Domek, Artemis Co-founder. “Sustaining and enhancing seasonal movement corridors and stay-over habitat of wildlife need to be a priority, and the conservation plans provide tangible measures to protect mule deer and sage-grouse habitat.”

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Artemis is a group of bold sportswomen creating fresh tracks for conservation and an initiative of NWF. Mule deer are a particular species of concern for Artemis. Follow Artemis on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

The National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization, uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Tim Kizer of Arkansas fishes a segment of the Louisiana wetlands where sediment from the Mississippi River is being diverted to rebuild the marsh, creating sustainable redfish habitat. Photo by Lew Carpenter

Robust fisheries have a positive impact on conservation and the economy

Washington, D.C. – May 6, 2013 – Restoring and expanding coastal and estuarine habitat leads to increases in fish populations, which have a positive impact on the communities and the industries that depend on thriving and sustainable fisheries.

A report released today by Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE) and the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and co-authored with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – More Habitat Means More Fish – makes a powerful case that investing in our nation’s coastlines and estuaries leads to healthy habitat and strong fisheries, which has a positive impact on the businesses and industries, both recreational and commercial, that need healthy fisheries to survive and thrive.

The full report, More Habitat Means More Fish, is available for downloading in PDF format via the RAE and ASA websites.

Among the findings are:

Over 75 percent of our nation’s commercial fish catch and 80-90 percent of the recreational fish catch depend on key estuary habitat at some point in their lifecycle.

Fish populations can respond quickly to habitat improvement and the impact will last over an extended period of time. Rebounds in fish populations can occur within months and persist for years.

In San Francisco Bay, restored salt marshes have improved 41 fish species including steelhead trout, Pacific herring, green sturgeon and Chinook salmon.

Since 2000, in Massachusetts and New York, herring, shad and sturgeon have doubled and tripled in population due to habitat restoration projects. Just two years after a single culvert was repaired connecting Bride Brook to Long Island Sound, the herring population more than tripled from 75,000 to 287,000.

An oyster reef restoration project in Alabama increased populations of several economically-important species, including blue crab, red drum, spotted seatrout, and flounder.

“Investing in coastal and estuarine habitat restoration is essential not only for the long-term future of our fisheries but also because it helps support economies and communities through the recreational and commercial fishing industries,” said Jeff Benoit, president and CEO of Restore America’s Estuaries. “In order to have fish, we have to have healthy habitat. If we want more fish, we need more healthy habitat.”

American Sportfishing Association President and CEO Mike Nussman noted, “As an industry, we are keenly aware of the impact that sportfishing has on our nation’s habitat restoration efforts. In many ways, America’s anglers are the nation’s most powerful force for conserving our nation’s fisheries and waters, investing more than $1 billion dollars each year in fisheries management and conservation through taxes on fishing equipment and state fishing license sales.”

The report notes that strategic habitat restoration is required, particularly in an era of shrinking budgets. “The big challenges that fisheries face are increasingly habitat challenges. Without healthy habitat, we cannot sustain the fisheries that will feed Americans now and into the future,” said Eric C. Schwaab, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

The full report is available via RAE and ASA.

### Founded in 1995, Restore America’s Estuaries is a national alliance of 11 regional, coastal conservation organizations with more than 250,000 volunteer-members dedicated to preserving our nation’s estuaries.

The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is the sportfishing industry’s trade association committed to representing the interests of the entire sportfishing community. We give the industry a unified voice, speaking out on behalf of sportfishing and boating industries, state and federal natural resource agencies, conservation organizations, angler advocacy groups and outdoor journalists when emerging laws and policies could significantly affect sportfishing business or sportfishing itself. ASA invests in long-term ventures to ensure the industry will remain strong and prosperous, as well as safeguard and promote the enduring social, economic and conservation values of sportfishing in America. ASA also gives America’s 60 million anglers a voice in policy decisions that affect their ability to sustainably fish on our nation’s waterways through KeepAmericaFishing™, our angler advocacy campaign. America’s anglers generate over $48 billion in retail sales with a $115 billion impact on the nation’s economy creating employment for more than 828,000 people.

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From left: Gabe Galster, Tim Kizer and Joe DiMarco in the Louisiana wetlands with a batch of fresh-run reds. Photo by Lew Carpenter

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